For video professionals, having an effective musical score is almost as vital as good camera work. Yet few videographers have the musical chops to whip together even a simple jingle from scratch using applications like Apple’s GarageBand ( ), Soundtrack Pro ( ), or Logic Pro ( ). SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro 4, a sound-scoring program, provides an easy alternative; a way for users to quickly assemble soundtracks by choosing and manipulating royalty-free music to fit their needs.
SmartSound packages Sonicfire Pro 4 in five bundles—Standard, Filmmaker, Corporate, Television, and Mega. The bundle you choose determines how much music you receive. Each comes with a different set of music libraries, and they range in price from $199 for the Standard version to $799 for the Mega bundle. Sonicfire Pro 4 is a Universal application; I conducted all tests on a MacBook Pro.
Scoring made easy
Even if you don’t know a B-flat from a waffle iron, you probably know what kind of music you’re looking for—once you hear it. Sonicfire Pro works on this principle. You load a video track and then audition music tracks against it until you find something that fits.
As with the previous version ( ), Sonicfire Pro 4 helps you create a score to fit almost any length by stringing together segments of music blocks and then using its Smart Extend feature to end the track in a musically satisfying manner.
When I reviewed Sonicfire Pro 3, my main criticism was that the program did not allow for very much audio manipulation. The music was fixed—prearranged—you just picked how much you wanted to use. You couldn’t remove a guitar riff from the music if it bothered you, for example.
With Sonicfire Pro 4, SmartSound has opened up the music to tinkering, practically down to an instrument level on the program’s Multi-Layer music tracks. Once you have a Multi-Layer music sample in your timeline, you can expand the view to show up to eight levels of instrumentation, which you can independently control. If you want to remove the drums from a song, all you need to do is select the percussion track and mute it, or simply remove the percussion audio from the timeline.
Sonicfire Pro 4 also has a new Mood Mapping feature that lets you change the nature of the music. When I first read about this feature, I dismissed it as a trivial tool, but I quickly changed my mind when I tried it. Essentially, the Mood Mapping tool remixes the music to change its characteristics; the actual musical notes don’t change, but the way you hear them does. For example, when you apply the Dialog mood, Sonicfire Pro cuts down the lead instruments that carry the main melody so the music doesn’t detract from a video’s dialog and action. These moods can be added to the music like markers, so you can change the music’s mood at a scene change, for example.
Sonicfire Pro 4’s only real drawback is that the included music library is sometimes anemic, particularly with the Standard edition (the Mega version has a decent amount of music, but at $799, it should). That being said, if you need a piece of music that isn’t included in your package, you can always search and sample music from SmartSound’s online music library via the SmartSound Maestro library browser. Additional music tracks are available for download at $20 each. Additional music CDs can be purchased for $100.
Macworld’s buying advice
Sonicfire Pro 4 makes creating royalty-free musical scores simple, and it is an ideal program for corporate video producers and indie filmmakers who don’t have their own composers. With the addition of Mood Mapping and multitracking features, Sonicfire Pro 4 is a significant upgrade from the previous version, and well worth the jump.
[ Anton Linecker is a technical video consultant and writer based in Los Angeles. ]Mood Mapping and multitracking capabilities allow you to manipulate individual instrument tracks and mold the music to fit your scenes. Sonicfire’s built-in Maestro lets you search, sample, and preview music clips from the online SmartSound store.